Episode 56: How to make audio recordings that are custom MCAT recordings specific to your particular needs.

Download transcript: MCAT Notes

Personalized MCAT MP3’s

This idea came from a recent email I received from a MasterMind member and I wanted to read it pretty much in its entirety and comment on it and then go step-by-step with exactly how to make these audio recordings. Keep in mind that when I was a Pre-med we didn’t have all the digital technology even ten plus years ago such as exists in phones and digital recorders now. They came along in medical school of course, but at the time I was a Pre-med, I actually used one of those mini cassette recorders.

I had a job where every weekend for two years straight from Friday afternoon at five to Monday morning at eight o’clock I was on-call for a three-state region to go and draw blood at nursing homes. Those were sick folks that couldn’t wait ’til Monday and they were difficult sticks. It was good clinical experience to hone my bedside manner and develop a rapport often with people that I would only meet once. While I was in the car driving all over the place, many hours every weekend usually, I would listen to the audio notes that I had made from the week before. I was a biology major and I would collect lots of them.

MCAT Recording Technology

The technology advance has made that a lot more efficient now. In other words,  I wouldn’t have to listen to an entire cassette. With digital technology, you can make each individual question or lecture or whatever passage you have to memorize an individual digital file that can be deleted as you go through it.

So, let’s go ahead and get started. I’m going to read this email to you. I’ll leave her name out. She says that she is one year post-undergraduate working full-time and finding it hard to prepare for the MCAT with frequent fifty-hour weeks. She’s working more than full-time at a job a year after graduating from college. She’s taken two Kaplan courses, first the basic Kaplan MCAT prep course and then the advanced course, but not made it past the content portion into practice tests due partly to crippling anxiety, which she describes as not feeling prepared and afraid of low scores.

Pre-Med is the Time to Experiment

I’ll pause there and say that undergraduate and MCAT preparation is a time to experiment with this idea of doing practice questions and practice tests before you feel comfortable. This is sort of like the minor leagues in baseball. Medical school is the big show, it’s the big game. The whole thing is designed around, “You are never going to feel comfortable and ready to take a test, you have to test yourself often and early before you are ready.” This only way you’re going to know if your study technique works and you need to do it in advance enough so that if your study technique is not working and your grades are not improving like you want, there’s still left some time before the test for you to adjust your techniques again.

Blame Your Study Technique

As I’ve stated previously in other podcasts, don’t blame yourself and beat yourself up if your grades aren’t where you want them, blame your study techniques. All of these things I’m alluding to here are wrapped up in several hours of study technique training that I had in the Medical MasterMind Community. So, we touch in on that right now. She’s stuck at that step.

The email goes on to say, because she purchased an MCAT audio learner program and listened at work, but it’s not the best. There’s some really good news that she’s going to say in a moment about in her job she is able to listen to audio recordings, perfect candidate for the Medical MasterMind Community podcasts and the Pre-med podcasts and such. She downloaded all she could from iTunes and listens to them every day at work. They give her motivation in content. She’s talking about the Pre-med podcasts as well. “I’m excited to be a new Medical MasterMinds Community member, but I cannot find any more podcasts.” So, she’s listened to all the free ones. Best I can tell from this email, and I replied to her already, I’m not sure she found the fifty mp3s that we have on the MCAT, the science content. “Can you please tell me where to look?” she asks. I did of course say that.

I will say that we’re in the middle of reorganizing the website to make it simpler and easier to navigate as well as fully mobile-accessible, so that you can listen to it from your phone while on the road if you have an Internet connection or any mobile device such as a tablet, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, whatever. “Also, if you have any advice on where to study my focusing?” She’s going to strategize on other MCAT tests in the next seven weeks.

She did talk about how the question and answer format of audio programs for the MCAT are the best preferred format and I could not agree more. I’ve been saying that for years. That’s what I developed when I was a Pre-med. So, a dozen years ago, that’s exactly what I was doing when I was a Pre-med, was making my own audio notes of high-yield material and turning it into question-pause-answer format. Now I’m going to go through the steps of exactly how you do this revealing some key components of the entire MasterMind study techniques program here. So, take quick notes. I’m going to run through this kind of quick. I know you can keep up.

The first idea is that you’re going to have some scope of material that’s going to be testable and I know you have several classes going at the same time, but we’re going to pretend like you’re taking patho physiology in undergrad for example. We’re going to use that. Let’s say you’re going to cover three chapters in pathophys and the test is in one month and the first lecture is today. The first thing you’re going to do is read everything. You’re going to read, pre-read if you can, the chapter before the lecture. You’ll get more out of it. Don’t just go through highlighting and making rainbow colors of your whole book, because it’s useless. The highlights don’t mean anything, everything’s important. A month away from the test the only thing you should be focusing on is getting the general core concepts, understanding the scope and breadth of the knowledge and the level of detail if you can, if you have access to old tests or can speak to upperclassmen or folks who have already taken the test. The more details you know about the way the professor teaches and tests, the better.

How to Use Highlighters as a PreMed

I recommend starting to highlight after, or rather, during the second reading of the material. The purpose isn’t to highlight everything, “Oh yeah, yeah. That’s important,” just highlight everything and go crazy; have a specific purpose and focus in mind. Every time you sit down to study, you should have a specific goal for that particular study session. One month out, the goal should be things like, “Let’s see what’s in this book.” “Let’s see if there are any useful graphs and images.” “Let’s read for core content, major definitions, chapter summaries and major headings.” Kind of skim the brief material for the first read. If you just focused on that, you could go through two to three chapters in one sitting, if that’s all you did. You shouldn’t be highlighting, you should just be scoping it out.

Constantly Filter Before the Test

Second read, highlight only material you know is high-yield that you don’t already know; never highlight, make an audio note or underline or make a note card of anything that you already know. If you’re going to get ready for medical school, you need to only focus on material that you don’t know. You need to sit with that discomfort and that anxiety of only looking at what you don’t know. If you know a chapter well, don’t ever look at it again. You’re wasting your time. Every time you’re holding that highlighter pretend you’re a surgeon and you’re cutting out that which you want to see again before the exam and that which you do not. If it’s something you don’t know, if it’s something high-yield and testable and you feel like you need to see it again before the exam, highlight it.

That brings us to the third reading. During the third reading, use a different color pen or highlighter. I usually would use yellow or orange the first time through for the highlighter and then a red pen the third reading. This time, I’m not reading the whole chapter, only read what you highlighted before. Do you see how important it is to only highlight the things you need to see again? Be careful, because if you follow this strategy, you won’t be reading the other un-highlighted texts again. You will never see it again. So, if this technique has embracing the memory decay, you know that in a particular lecture a certain percentage of the material is going to be forgotten no matter how good the lecture and that decay worsens over time, so you need to keep it fresh and be a surgeon with your highlighter.

Back to this third reading, with the red ink pen, for example, you’re only looking at what was previously highlighted and you’re asking yourself this, “Do I already know this? Do I need to see it again?” If you already know it, forget about it. If you don’t already know it, hopefully you’ve gone to more lectures, maybe you have access to practice questions, old tests, talk to people. You have a better idea if something’s high-yield and testable. If it’s not don’t underline it. That’s another rejection criteria. If it meets these criteria of both being something you don’t already know, something you need to see again because it’s testable and high-yield underline it with the red pen. Once you’ve gone through all the material again for this third reading with your red pen, then I want you to make audio notes of each one of those underlined sections.

Within a particular section of a book, make out single audio note file, whether you’re using a device from Best Buy, one of those personal digital voice recorders. I like those a lot. I prefer them better than the phones of course. The phones have come a long way, so you might try your phone if you already have one and you don’t need to make any extra purchase. I think those digital recorders are way overpriced considering what phones can do now, but they’re handy, they’re battery-operated, you can carry back-up batteries, they have headphones and each recording can be a file and the navigation is a little easier. You can use it while you are jogging and even delete files or replay them without even looking, the hand navigation on some of them can all be controlled with the thumb and fit nicely in the hand and if you drop it, you’re not dropping your phone. I prefer those gadgets, that’s what I used in medical school and listened to podcasts a bunch. You can squeeze in many, many hours in them.

Make Your Own MCAT MP3’s

How you’re going to actually make your MCAT audio note itself is you’re going to look at a, let’s say you underlined a whole paragraph, look at it and say, “How can I form this into a question?” You’ve got your recorder in your hand. If you can, fine. If you can’t, just read it quickly and then save the file. Don’t hem-haw around and say, “Um, yeah, yeah.” If you want some examples on how to make some good audio notes, I say they’re good just because they’re some of the most popular medical school podcasts, visit medicalschoolpodcast.com and look for those that I’ve released from the cross-synaptic learning series that we have for United States Medical Licensing Exam. I’m in the process of creating those. The process is a little slow, but every month I kick out one or two. I have about twenty more to add. There are close to ten up on the website already. Listen to one of those samples out there on the medical school podcasts and you’ll see that I have about ten pages condensed into about forty-five minutes of audio. I don’t play around, I’m not hem-haw, I’m not explaining anything.

That’s a good point: Whenever you’re making an audio note, understand that you’re still studying and this is an important crunch time for you where you are still motivated to learn the material. Two months from now, you’re not going to care about it anymore because your test will be over, so make as many audio notes as you can while you actually care. I would suggest, don’t delete them if you want to share them with the MasterMind Community. That’s how we got our fifty mp3s and I paid for that. I could pay you money if you have good audio recordings that you want to share. They can be entertaining. What I’m trying to get it is don’t sit and explain an elementary concept in your audio recording. Assume that by the time that it’s the night before the final and you listen to these again, hopefully for the third, fourth or fifth time, you would already learned what those basic definitions and explanations mean.

My Biggest Problem With MCAT Recordings

The biggest complaint I had, my own audio notes, was that from early in the exam cycle, let’s say a month before the test I would make audio notes that were very explanatory in nature and I would go on and on and on about a simple idea. When I made the audio recording, it was still new to me but I was kind of using the recording as a sounding board for myself to make sure I vocalized and understood the material. That’s an important process, but it doesn’t make a very high-yield audio note to record later because it drones on and on just to say one thing. My point is when you’ve got your red ink and you’re just making your audio notes, just read it fast. You don’t have to understand all of it right then. There will be a few mistakes in there from time-to-time, but you’ll figure out over time. That’s okay, you can still use the audio note for your benefit.

Then, just record a bunch of them and save them. Keep them on your computer. Send me a sample and I’ll give you personal feedback on that. I think it would be great if we could collaborate more as a community with what our audio noted are doing. These podcasts are very efficient in squeezing into your extra time. I would kind of like to make a file share type of environment. Maybe we could do a drop-box or something together. So, if you know about that technology and would like to make a MasterMind Community of Pre-med podcasts drop-box so we can share audio files, so much the better.